Texas firefighting team jets in to battle Lincoln rail-tanker blaze

Placer County backs up Lincoln effort with manpower, expertise
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Outside help – including a hotshot crew of tanker fire experts from Texas – was helping Lincoln deal Wednesday with a potentially catastrophic propane fire in a railway tank car. The crew from Fort Worth, Texas’ Specialized Response Solutions flew in on a private jet to be part of a local team augmented by area fire officials and led by Lincoln Fire Chief Dave Whitt. Plans were announced at a Wednesday press conference to extinguish the fire and allow evacuees in a one-mile radius around the blaze to return to their homes as early as Thursday. Dick Simmons, Placer County’s emergency services program manager, said the county is also assisting with an emergency that had the potential to overwhelm city of Lincoln personnel. The county’s Office of Emergency Services kept five fire information lines open overnight Tuesday and Wednesday. Each of five people manning phones was averaging as many as 100 calls an hour around 11 p.m., Simmons said. Lincoln staff was able to take over the phones at 9 a.m. Wednesday. The public information line is (916) 434-2450. Placer County Sheriff’s Office deputies assisted by providing personnel to do “a lion’s share” of the evacuation work, going door-to-door to request residents to leave their homes because of the danger of a major flash-fire, Simmons said. A decision was made by incident-command leaders to not evacuate three, long-term care facilities inside the one-mile evacuation area. But Simmons said Placer County Health & Human Services employees assisted with helping remove people in wheelchairs or with fragile health issues from their homes. One care facility outside the evacuation area helped out by providing beds at no cost, he added. Simmons said he was hopeful that Lincoln Fire and the Texas team, which was recommended to local emergency officials by Union Pacific, would be able to take the measures necessary to put out the fire as soon as possible. “They’ve done this before and when they arrived, they walked right up to the tanks,” Simmons said. “We’re happy they’re here.” There were reports of emergency alerts to evacuate going out to households as far away as Auburn and Granite Bay. Simmons confirmed those took place and said early indications were that some of the 4,800 automated calls that went out did go to outlying areas. A “computer glitch” emanating from the maker of the early warning system was being investigated as the possible cause, he said. Simmons said emergency officials are concerned about the problem and don’t want it to happen again. He added that there were no reports that the messages created any harm, such as someone breaking an arm in a rush to leave their home.